Strength of Schedule

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Strength of Schedule

Every Sunday I get the polls in college football, then I go into a Sonny Corleone rant. I am ready to shoot first and ask questions later.

Florida escapes against Louisiana Lafayette despite being down by seven with two minutes to go and has to block a punt to win with :02 ticks left. The Gators remain number seven in the coaches' poll and the AP poll and sixth in the BCS poll. The same day Clemson beats Maryland by 35 points and falls a spot.

I then go to the Jeff Sagrin poll and find out that a few 5-5 tomato cans are ranked ahead of Clemson and Florida State and get even more steamed.

Four SEC teams with two losses are ahead of Clemson in the BCS poll and I get even more irritated.

But then I settle down and go back and read what Dabo SwinneyDabo Swinney
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says about the polls and I feel better. He says, "We just need to win our games and the polls will take care of themselves."

Dabo is right about this and under the current system the schedule and computers really haven't hurt Clemson that much. Let's face it, if Clemson beats NC State and South Carolina, then there is a great chance Clemson will go to the Sugar Bowl. It would be the second Sugar Bowl in school history and only the sixth BCS-type bowl (Four Orange Bowl appearances).

Clemson is currently 11th in the BCS and AP polls and ninth in the coaches poll. Florida and Florida State play each other, so I would assume an 11-1 Clemson team would move up one spot there. Georgia and Alabama will play in the SEC title game. I would hope the Tigers could move ahead of the loser of that game. Clemson would move ahead of South Carolina in the BCS poll if they beat the Gamecocks. They are already ahead of South Carolina in the other two polls.

So at 11-1 Clemson would be eighth in the BCS poll and maybe seventh in the coaches poll.

Is it fair to assume Clemson could finish in the top five if it beat NC State and South Carolina and then went on to beat Alabama or Georgia in the Sugar Bowl?

If two teams make it through the season undefeated and play in the BCS national title game, then Clemson would have lost nothing because of its schedule or the computer polls. Once the Tigers lost to FSU in Tallahassee, their national title hopes were dashed. Even with the nation's toughest schedule a one-loss Clemson team would not have jumped two undefeated teams to play in the national title game. Therefore, a top five finish was about as good as they could have hoped for.

Where the schedule did hurt is if they would have been undefeated and been left out of a national title game. It also hurts if the Tigers suffer a loss this week or next week and get left out of the BCS and are replaced by another two loss team.

Where Clemson needs to worry a little is in the future of the four-team national title playoff. A weak schedule may hurt a one-loss Clemson team in its chances to get into a four-team playoff. It could also hurt in a two-loss Clemson team's chances of getting an at-large bid to one of the remaining four games that are BCS-type of games but are not a part of the playoffs.

We don't know Clemson's schedule next year yet, but the Tigers do open at home against Georgia and close at South Carolina. We know Clemson gets FSU at home. Who knows how the rest of the ACC will break down, but Clemson may be in strong shape to win the league again or may be a BCS at-large candidate again next season and the schedule may be a bigger factor.

However, in this season Clemson's schedule is not a major factor in most scenarios over the next three weeks. One scenario that might doom Clemson's chances of going to the Sugar Bowl at 11-1 is if Oregon lost. That would once again bring up the strength of schedule argument. But at this point despite the schedule, it looks like an 11-1 Clemson team goes to the Sugar Bowl and a two-loss or three-loss Clemson teams goes to the Chic-fil-a Bowl. A 12-1 Clemson team has a chance to finish in the top five in the country while an 11-2 team has a shot at finishing in the top ten. So did the schedule really kill us in 2012?

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